Image by Fabien Bazenegue

Su-Fern Tan spent the past decade in the US, working and accruing knowledge on building sustainability and, as we reported last week, she’s now heading home to Australia to take on the role of national director ESG with CBRE.

Su-Fern Tan

Unable to immediately return to Australia due to Covid, Ms Tan spoke to The Fifth Estate from New York, sharing some of what she had learnt while in the Big Apple and some plans for when she finally touches down.

From an office on Wall Street, Ms Tan spent six years overseeing Deutsche Bank’s corporate real estate energy and sustainability program. During which time, along with her team, she was able to save the German giant millions in utilities costs.

With basic efficiency upgrades, spurred on by incentive based reporting, Ms Tan said the savings on buildings energy use can be major. And she says with new smart building technologies, the savings can be even greater. 

“We reduced utility consumption by 25 per cent, and that was just manually. If we use technology to monitor our buildings and detect the changes we can make, I reckon that 25 per cent could have become 40-50 per cent,” Ms Tan said. 

“And I’ve seen these improvements first hand when we look at smart buildings.”

Tan also sat on an advisory board helping implement New York’s ambitious Local Law 97, which imposes strict emissions reduction and energy efficiency requirements on buildings. 

The rigid and ambitious laws have sent the industry scrambling, according to Ms Tan, with many building operators facing millions of dollars worth of fines if they fail to act quickly. 

“New York has gone from basically nothing, to this. So that’s shaken up the industry here.” she said.

Ms Tan says her new job in Australia will be primarily dealing with property managers and owners to help guide better ESG outcomes – and with plenty of industry focus on the E, she would love to see more action on the S and G as well.  

She says these days the building management game is increasingly progressive, with many setting ambitious targets for their properties – but also needing people on the ground to help them deliver.

On top of regulatory benchmarking, mandatory compliance to ratings such as NABERS, there are voluntary benchmarks many are looking to reach. And of course corporate reporting to make it all worthwhile. 

Ms Tan is realistic in her assessments of what boardrooms require to get ESG initiatives across the line. 

“The only way that I have survived as a sustainability professional is because of the commercial outcomes, no one is doing this because they’ve got a conscience or because they want to feel good about anything. It really is all about the commercial bottom line.” 

But with so many more people interested in sustainability these days she says the business, and environmental case is a far easier sell. 

“It’s not a feel good, altruistic, tree hugging thing anymore. It’s a necessity for us to embrace a more sustainable future,” Ms Tan said. 

“I think there will always be some kind of convincing that needs to be done, but because of the investor-led ESG marketplace right now, I don’t think that the battle is quite so hot. Because money is talking and the money is in companies that embrace ESG.”

Job Movements

Meanwhile, Leah Lang has been appointed to the role of Queensland government architect, the first female to hold the position. She replaces Malcolm Middleton, who spent a decade in the role.

Ms Lang was previously Gold Coast City architect where she helped guide the development of infrastructure for the 2018 Queensland Commonwealth Games, experience that will no doubt come in handy when facing the 2033 Brisbane Olympics. 

“I believe good design can greatly contribute towards solving complex problems surrounding climate change and population growth,” Lang said.

Former head of New Zealand’s Green Building Council and PwC consultant, Alex Cutler is the new chief sustainability officer with NZ property asset consultancy, RDT – a role created to strengthen sustainability guidance for clients and cut emissions from the company’s own operations.

Ms Cutler said with the NZ government going carbon neutrality by 2025 and the “clear pressure” on corporate boards to report climate related asset risks, it was critical to take a more strategic and cohesive approach to developing sustainable buildings across whole property portfolios.

“While Aotearoa New Zealand property developers have been building Green Star rated assets for years, how it connects with corporate strategy, and in turn, value to shareholders, is often less clear. We will be spending more time with clients to help them clearly articulate and capture that value,” she said.

Alison Chan has left National Australia Bank, where she was director of sustainable finance, to take on a new role with asset management firm, Metrics, as investment director sustainable finance.

Based in Sydney, Ms Chan will be responsible for developing sustainable finance strategies to help encourage global decarbonisation. 

Industrial property developer, ESR Australia has appointed Simon Carter as acting head of ESG, to help implement the company’s new sustainable strategy. 

Initially the strategy will focus on setting higher standards for new and existing developments, and increasing the uptake of solar. 

With over 20 years’ experience in sustainable property Mr Carter will help ESR respond to 

demand for better ESG outcomes from investors, customers and employees, the company said. 

“When I first started in the sector, sustainability in commercial property was in its infancy. It has been an exciting experience to see it develop from a fringe element of real estate practice to the levels of expertise, ambition and performance the sector has today,” Mr Carter said. 

Political job movements 

In this special item in Jobs news we wanted to acknowledge that an independent candidate has been named for the seat of Bradfield in NSW, following our story about the broader national push for more independents.

On the “very successful, very professional model” Zali Steggall used to defeat Tony Abbott – and why it’s growing

Long time Bradfield community leader, Janine Kitson, will stand at the next federal election against current member, Paul Fletcher who is the government’s minister for communications, urban infrastructure, cities and the arts.

“I can no longer abide the Morrison Government’s failure to tackle the important issues of our time – climate change, integrity and accountability in politics and the need for a strong and independent ABC,” Ms Kitson said.

“I have spent a lifetime fighting for heritage and the environment; empowering the lives of children as a teacher and believing we can make a difference if we all work together to solve problems.” 

“Australia needs to urgently act on our climate emergency. The Morrison government’s climate policies have no credibility with no plans to reach net zero emissions before 2050. It is time Australia stepped up and stopped being a ‘climate laggard’.”

Ms Kitson will also be campaigning on the issue of parliamentary “integrity” and we would like to take this opportunity to farewell Christian Porter from the ministership.  

Our pick of the jobs

Infrastructure management company Ventia is gearing up with new staff to commence services from 1 December this year, after it was awarded a major contract with the South Australian government.

One of the roles up for grabs is for a sustainability advisor to be based out of either Adelaide, or one of a number of regional centres, providing advice on all sustainability aspects of the contract, meeting state requirements and beyond. 

The contract covers buildings such as hospitals, schools and TAFE buildings and you will be required to prepare and implement plans for sustainability management, emissions reductions and waste management and recycling. 

And finally an interesting role on offer from Travel Centre, which presumably during Covid had plenty of time to reshuffle its organisation. 

The role is for a global sustainability officer, helping align the company’s operations with its nine chosen SDGs including poverty alleviation and climate action. 

If you get the gig you will play a key part in developing the company’s strategy in relation to the goals, including conducting a global audit of current initiatives and developing new ones. 

Of course you’ll need to have some experience in the area, but for those who do, we dare say there may be some opportunity for free or at least discounted travel. When borders open of course.

And of course with respect for some kind of reasonable personal travel budget – until we come up with a plan for zero carbon travel. Well… after that last IPCC IR5 climate report, with its Code Red warning, everything has to be up for grabs, right?

Bon Voyage!

Please send job tips to duncan@thefifthestate.com

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